Rock On!! (India 2008)

Rock On!! is an interesting Hindi film recommended by one of itpworld’s Indian commenters. It scores highly on IMDB (8.2) and was clearly popular in India on urban multiplex screens as an example of a new kind of Bollywood film. However, in the UK it died at the box office, faring badly compared to most Hindi releases with a screen average below £1,000 and being trounced by a Tamil release, Dhaam Dhoom (which has a very low IMDB score).

Viewed from the UK, Rock On!! feels like a fairly conventional take on a rock nostalgia story. Magik were a band that ten years ago were on the verge of ‘making it’ but the compromises they would have been forced to take in order to get a recording deal caused a split and the band broke up. Now there is a chance to re-form for the four band members. Will they take it? Wikipedia suggests that the film draws on the UK film Stir Crazy (1998) and a Korean film about which I know nothing. Maybe, but the genre is so well known that such comparisons can be easily made and I don’t think we should take too much notice. More interesting is the attempt to portray four characters from different backgrounds – two middle-class college boys, an Indian Christian and an Indian character from a European background. The film has music sequences but they are used much more like the performance pieces in a (fictional) music biopic than in a typical Bollywood film. The music itself is what I would call mainstream AOR with some Bollywood flavour. It’s melodic and pleasant but very smooth. The lyrics are sung in Hindi and the relatively old-fashioned feel is emphasised by two songs played by other acts, one in English and both much closer to modern US/UK sounds.

The story itself is not particularly interesting apart from the sociological details but I watched it quite happily. What is important, I think, is that the film provides an opportunity for the young urban middle-class in India to identify with a genuinely Indian take on a global cultural form. The production context too is interesting. Excel films was founded by Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani in 1999. Akhtar is clearly a young man with a future. At 35 he has directed four features, produced others and in Rock On!! takes one of the lead roles as the wealthy young man who writes the lyrics, acts as lead singer and then turns to investment banking when the band splits up.

rockonrollinstoneAnother interesting feature of the film’s release was the appearance of the four leads on the cover of the Indian edition of Rolling Stone magazine – another example of the Americanisation of middle-class Indian youth? Rolling Stone lost all its credibility as a serious music and culture magazine a long time ago. The quartet went on to play concerts in various Indian cities.

When I think about it, I can see the connection between this film and Rang De Basanti in terms of a kind of youthful romanticism. I think it could have had a bit more edge though. I’m a bit fed up of the American college kid thing now. Couldn’t we have some Hindi movies about working class kids who become great cricketers? (I was heartened to see that the Bollywood box-office, coming out of the strike between multiplexes and producers, was unable to recover during the weeks of the IPL and then the 20-20 World Cup).


  1. Just Another Film Buff

    “Couldn’t we have some Hindi movies about working class kids who become great cricketers?”

    Well said. I haven’t seen Rock On, but it kind of looks dangerously close to films like Almost Famous and its kind. The problem with the new Multiplex culture seems to me that the filmmakers are producing films only for the extremely and irreversibly westernized metropolitan population. The villages and towns (towns have started aping cities mindlessly) are taken care by Z grade romantic movies and the Bhojpuri industry.

    Worse, for the big budget films, the target is simply the west – the Non-resident Indians mostly. Trying to mimic the glam part of Hollywood, the Bolly films are losing their identity completely.
    Sometimes I feel that the cheesy action films of the 80s are far better than the self-congratulatory duds of today.

    I am glad, in a way, that the recent surge of village-based scripts in Tamil cinema is truly making it unique (albeit because of the “formula”) and films are being made, first, for the home audience. I, personally, would love our filmmakers to tackle the multiculturalism issue in cities (a la the US indies of 2008.



    Farhan Akhtar also hosts his own tv show on the NDTV channel in which he chats with Bollywood film stars and celebrities. He might be the Indian equivalent of Takeshi Kitano in that he has a developed an endless array of personas.


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